Throughout June, I’ll be chatting with queer and trans artists of color about their work and their inspirations. Some are well known, others aren’t. But they’ve all got something to say about how the path toward liberation starts in the creative mind.
There are a lot of different ways to describe D’Lo — actor, writer, stand-up comedian. There are even more qualifiers that he could use for the identities that inform his work — transgender, queer, Sri Lankan-American, Tamil. But at its core, his work is about love and all of the complicated ways that humans experience it.
That experience of love is deeply autobiographical. D’Lo’s work traverses his path from growing up in Lancaster, Calif., to coming of age in New York City and then finding his way back home to Los Angeles. It’s a journey littered with heartbreaks and reconciliations along the way — an older sister who tragically died in a plane crash, a mother and father who’ve traveled their own path to accepting his identity. But D’Lo’s happy to invite people into his world, in hopes that you’ll find something familiar. Below, we talk about his craft, his path and what he’s proud of.
When did you start performing?
It was probably my first year in college that I started performing. I was doing the UCLA Poetry Read and I got to college when I was 17. From that age forward, I think I got my first paycheck when I was 18 or 19 from performing mostly hip-hop and spoken word. The artforms that I use have changed since then.
What motivated you to start doing work on the stage?
When I was writing hip-hop and spoken word, I already knew that I was queer but that was kind of a hard subject to tackle in my pieces. I was tackling larger issues like war and AIDS and Sri Lanka and police brutality, and then around 2002 I started working with a theater artist in New York named Susana Cook. My work became light, it was comedic, and we were also talking about really important queer issues. And I mean queer not just in terms of gender and sexuality, but in terms of having a queer politic.
That impacted the way that I was writing. I started getting really personal. I think that I wrote the [mother piece](http://vimeo.com/74552528) around then, and I started writing other monologues that soon became a play around masculine of center people. That’s when I started writing more about queer and trans issues.
What’s the hardest thing about your craft?
I’m the hardest thing about my craft. [Laughs.] We all know that we always get in our own way, but on another larger level I feel like there are things that have really broken down intense barriers for queer and trans people. I feel like when I came back to L.A. around 2003—I’d gone out to New York when things weren’t going well after I came out to my family—I was looking for a place to perform where I would get discovered, not in the cheesy way, but in a way that would lead to more industry attention.
I was on that journey in a small way, but then in a larger way around 2006 and 2007. That’s when I was trying to showcase my work in as many places as possible where industry would be. I feel like my work is really accessible, but what ends up happening is a lot of people — talent agents or whatever — see my work and they don’t necessarily know what to do with me. They would say shit like, “Oh, there’s no doubt you’re talented, we just don’t know what to do with you.” Or then it was just flat out homophobia or transphobia. So I feel like the way I am, my appearance, used to be a thing that would just close the door. Now people think that my appearance is interesting and we have more writers who are looking to write about folks who aren’t the status quo.
I feel like being queer and trans always gets in the way of making money. But I feel like, on the other hand, where in the mainstream I can’t seem to make a mark, I make a bigger wave in a community that respects what I have to say as an artist.
What makes you proud?
I feel proud when I see people really standing in their power and just going for it. No matter how confident somebody feels, it doesn’t mean that they’ve got it all together. It just means that they’re trying to put mind over matter or know how to fake it ‘til they make it. At the end of the day, there might be something worth risking their lack of confidence for. You just kind of buck up and do what you’ve gotta do.